Only the most optimistic of Whitecaps fans will have come away from the 2-1 defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes on Friday evening thinking that Vancouver’s playoff hopes were still alive.
Sure they could get a win in either Kansas or LA and maybe be back in the hunt but realistically this looks like a team that is as good as done when it comes to the MLS season.
But instead of plodding over the same old ground about what went wrong on the night (the shambolic defending, the inability to finish, the lack of any cohesion) let’s maybe take a step back and take a look at some of things that have gone awry with Carl Robinson this season.
What are the issues that the coach needs to address in his own performance?
Locker room culture- Robinson loves to sign a player who is “good in the locker room” but ultimately that culture has to be set by the coach and his staff and not by surrogates.
I doubt that anybody has watched the Whitecaps this year and seen a group of players who are all on the same page.
That doesn’t mean there’s internal strife and it doesn’t mean they are unhappy (they may even be too happy) but it does mean that something isn’t working.
The breaks haven’t always fallen for Vancouver this year but there are two ways of dealing with adversity in all sport; you either use it to make yourself better and stronger or you use it as an excuse for defeat.
The Whitecaps have leaned on the latter far too often in 2016 and that’s a culture that needs to be changed from the top.
The inability to change a game- If there is one thing that separates the great coaches from the good coaches and the good coaches from the average then it’s probably the capacity to take a step back from the emotion of a game and view it as an objective observer.
That’s how the really top coaches earn their salaries; with small tactical switches and substitutions at the right time.
Robinson is still learning the role but it can be so frustrating to watch the Whitecaps clearly making no inroads in a game and yet there is still a reluctance to make a change.
By the sixtieth minute against San Jose (for just one example) it was clear that the Whitecaps had run out of attacking ideas but it took another Earthquakes goal before a substitution was made and that was too little too late.
If Robinson can’t see that the changes need to be made then he needs to seek the advice of someone who can and if he can see that the changes need to be made but is reluctant to make them for fear of damaging a player’s confidence or upsetting team chemistry then he needs to be braver in making the switch.
Which leads to.
Picking names over form- Every manager will deny that they do this but every manager probably does; they all have their “favourites” and that’s fine to a degree.
The problem for Robinson is that his seeming “favourites” are really not playing well at all and so we are faced with the situation where the likes of Waston and Laba keep getting the start whereas the likes of Mezquida and Parker are either shunted into unfamiliar positions or out of the team altogether.
The coach hinted earlier in the week that he would drop one of these regular starters but that didn’t happen on Friday.
He hinted the same thing immediately following that defeat so let’s see what happens, because this policy has haunted him and hurt the team in the last few weeks.
Attitude on the road- If MLS is anything then it’s a League where any team can beat any other team on any given day yet too often this year Vancouver have gone into road trips with, if not a defeatist attitude, than at least an attitude that exudes “settling for a draw at best”.
I get that the travel is tough but enough teams have come to BC Place and outplayed the Whitecaps to make a person believe it isn’t quite that tough.
Keep talking about how hard a game or a trip will be and you give players an excuse for not performing and a lot of players will be all too happy to fall back on that excuse.
Which leads to.
Abdication of responsibility- Not in the sense of taking the blame for poor results (he definitely does that) but in the insistence that “fine lines” etc are what decide football games.
They often are but there’s a kind of “it’s out of our hands whether we win or lose” disposition that, once again, must seep through to the players and give them an easy out if things do go badly.
Players shouldn’t look for these get out clauses but they always do and they always will and it’s up to the coach to deny them the chance.
There are probably other things I could mention; the lack of any effective touchline presence and the failure to recognize that the modern coach needs to be a tribune for the fans frustrations as much as a defence counsel for the players.
But the counterbalance is that he has also had dreadful luck with injuries, suspensions and all around MLS weirdness that offers up some kind of mitigating factors, but the room for error is getting less and less roomier with every passing defeat.
It may already be too late to turn the League season around but there is still the Champion’s League to try and progress in and a core of players who can still achieve something (there was no lack of effort against San Jose, just a lack of organization) so now is the time for Robinson to make brave choices both before and during the remaining games.
If not now when? If not him who?
Time then for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.
Ousted-4, Parker-4, Waston-5, Edgar-4, De Jong-5, Morales-6, Laba-4, Bolaños -6*, Mezquida-6, Barnes-5, Kudo-4 (Davies-5, Perez-5)